BWW Reviews: NYC Premiere of Mark Morris Dance Group ACIS AND GALATEA
The crown jewel of this year's Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center is Mark Morris Dance Group's new staging of ACIS AND GALATEA. The much-anticipated production, which had runs in Berkeley and Boston earlier this spring, made its New York premiere on Thursday evening.
Not only have I heard tenor Thomas Cooley, who sings the role of Acis in Morris' production, perform the role under the baton of Jane Glover. I have, in fact, worked on a production of ACIS myself, and have heard practically every recording of the piece that's out there.
Needless to say, my level of expectation for any production of this piece is extremely high. But, with Morris as the impresario, I knew the production would be unforgettable.
I must admit that at the beginning of the opera, I was a tad worried that Morris' choreography would be derivative of the Wayne McGregor's 2009 production at the Royal Opera House, London.
As Yulia Van Doren sings Galatea's "birdsong" aria, "Hush ye pretty warbling choir," a dancer enters the playing space with birdlike movements, just as in the ROH production. After a few bars, though, you realize Morris has created something entirely his own. Rather than limit himself to a pair of love birds, as in McGregor's version, Morris populates the stage with an entire flock.
The talented dancers of the Mark Morris Dance Group peck and poke, flap and flutter. In this aria, Morris and his dancers created a vocabulary of movement playfully inspired by birds, but more colloquial and less balletic than that of McGregor.
The chuckles continued throughout the evening. But the show isn't all laughs. Morris balances every moment of humor with tenderness, all perfectly matched to the music.
For example, in Galatea's aria "As when the dove laments her love," the singer repeats the word "no" several times on the same pitch during one phrase. Morris transformed this simple musical gesture into a touching choreographic one. Each time Galatea sings "no," she playful hits her lover, ultimately pushing him to the ground - an intimate "no means yes" moment that the audience is allowed to voyeuristically enjoy.
More moving still was Cooley's solo performance of "Love in her eyes sits playing," which made me tear up within a few beats of the vocal entrance. Many singers have an incredible capacity for feeling, but it is quite another to externalize those feelings, and on top of it, to make yourself vulnerable to thousands of strangers! Cooley's deep capacity for feeling and his unique ability to express those feelings so immediately are true gifts.